WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE SUFFERING?
"For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps ... and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." >1 Peter 2:21, 23
A few years ago, I had knee surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon. (Basketball is a great game but it can be rough on one’s body.) My surgical team gave me a nerve blocker to help with the post op pain. It worked wonders … until it wore off. It was as if all the pain had waited on the “on deck circle” just chomping at the bit to be released. When it came, it came like a flood. I was suffering with intense pain. My prayer? “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
Suffering is not foreign to any of us. Human beings experience pain and suffering on a regular basis and in many areas of life. Sometimes it is physical, sometimes it is mental and emotional (we lose a loved one or experience the agony of an unwanted divorce or unexpected tragedy), and sometimes it is spiritual (we grieve over a personal failure or a wayward loved one). Regardless of the specific area of suffering, all of us can certainly relate to it. To be sure, Jesus was extremely familiar with pain and suffering, being “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).
WHAT TO DO WITH THE SUFFERING?
So what does God want us to do when pain and suffering come into our lives like an unwanted intruder? There are three main courses of action, two are bad and one is good.
1. Endure the Suffering. This course of action may sound noble and godly, but in the context of this post it is not. (I realize the Bible talks about endurance, but hear me out.) If we grit our teeth and simply endure the suffering through the power of our flesh, we make suffering our master. This opens the door to resentment and bitterness toward God, and causes us to falsely believe that He is the One who is cruelly allowing this egregious torture to disrupt and destroy your life and tranquility.
2. Escape the Suffering. This is the path so often taken. Those on this road attempt to escape their pain through drugs, alcohol, pleasure-seeking, partying, sexual immorality, incessant working, and the like. Trying to escape the suffering just exacerbates the issue, creates a whole new set of problems, and prolongs the lesson God is trying to teach you in the first place.
3. Enlist the Suffering. This is God’s way to deal with the pain. Don’t let it become your master, employ it as your servant. Allow God to teach you key lessons—lessons you would never learn on the mountaintop times of life. When applied correctly, suffering can be a special vehicle to draw us nearer to the heart of God. It can teach us to be truly grateful for each day and each blessing, because He owes nothing to us. When we enlist the suffering, it helps us to “keep entrusting [ourselves] to Him who judges righteously.” That is exactly what Jesus did with His suffering.
Are you suffering today? Has trouble and adversity touched down like a tornado on your life? Are you struggling with resentment and bitterness as you angrily endure the pain? Does escape seem like the best option so that you can just be done with your difficult marriage, your stressful home life, your pressure-cooker of a job? Let me encourage you to enlist your suffering as if it were an important course in school. God has deep and wonderful lessons He wants to teach you during your time of pain and suffering.
MY SEMINARY LESSON
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned in seminary was through a time of pain and suffering. I had left everything to follow Jesus—resigned my high paying job, left my friends, and moved halfway across the country to obey His call. In Houston, I had a good job, a good church, a good Sunday School to teach, good friends and nearby family. Willingly and gladly, Debbie and I left all of this to get out of the boat to follow the Lord.
Several months into my seminary training in North Carolina, I was frustrated and forlorn. I had no opportunities to teach or preach. I was living on a financial shoestring. I went from being a respected deacon and Sunday School teacher at church and a well-thought of Senior Account Manager at work, to being an unknown nub at school. “What gives, God? I left virtually everything to follow You. Did I miss the boat? I seemed much more effective at serving the Lord when in Houston than here in North Carolina with no outlets or opportunities. I just want to quit.” Job 2:9 began to seem like a plausible option, “Curse God and die.” (I’m kidding, of course).
In my emotional suffering, God spoke to my heart so clearly, “Jeff, who called you here? Me, right? Who is in charge here? Me again. If I want you to sit on the shelf so to speak and just listen and learn for awhile, because that is what pleases Me at the moment, do you think that would be okay with you?”
After that encounter with the Lord, I realized something hugely important. My number one job on this earth is simply to please God … and I had lost sight of that. If God is glorified from me being on the shelf, or in a sick bed for that matter, should that not be okay with me? Is not my whole reason for being to glorify Him?
That incident happened nearly twenty years ago, and I refer to it often. In my suffering, I learned the greatest lesson of seminary.
Remember, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and He saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 32:18). Let Him be near to you as you trust Him, no matter what.
P.S. I would love to hear your thought on this. Direct questions and comments to email@example.com.
Dr. Jeff Schreve believes that no matter how badly you may have messed up in life, God still loves you and has a wonderful plan just for you. From His Heart provides real truth, love and hope on over 700 radio stations each day, in 149 countries each week on TV, and is always available online. Pastor Jeff takes no income from this ministry. All donations go to furthering the broadcast outreach. As a listener/viewer supported ministry, we thank you for joining with us to help speak the truth in love to a lost and hurting world. Go to www.fromhisheart.org for more information.
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